Thursday, March 25, 2010

Straight Shooting with Tom Mix

Sometime in 1944, a young Tony Mangano, to whom Boom Pop! is lovingly dedicated, happily opened an envelope from the Ralston Straight Shooters that had been mailed to him from a post office box in St. Louis.  Inside the envelope was his very own Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters of America Secret Manual.  At the time, Tony was a faithful listener of  "Radio's Biggest Western Detective Program," aka Tom Mix and His Ralston Straight Shooters, that aired every evening, Monday through Friday, on Pittsburgh-based radio station WCAE.
The real-life Tom Mix had little to do with the radio program beyond licensing his name and image to the Ralston-Purina Company, a breakfast cereal maker.  His fictional radio counterpart was portrayed by a number of different actors over the course of the show's seventeen year run.  Selling cereal was certainly a key component of the show and listeners such as Tony were encouraged to collect cereal boxtops that would earn various premium items.  Radio historian Jack French notes that, "The demand for the radio premiums offered on the program began strong and stayed high for the nearly 20 years the series was on the air. Virtually every type of premium was offered: guns, rings, air planes, books, lariats, coins, bandanas, badges, stationery, cowboy clothes, make-up kits, telegraph sets, periscopes, branding irons, etc.  The Ralston boxtops were pouring into St. Louis and truckloads of radio premiums were routed through the postal system into the hands of anxious kiddies."

The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters of America Secret Manual is an amazing little booklet.  It is filled with many of the standard fan club components: a pledge of allegiance, secrets (as in handshakes, passwords, salutes, whistles and flashlight signals), theme song, and of course the obligatory "Tell Your Friends About Ralston, the Official Straight Shooters Cereal" advertisement.  An almost entirely fictional 17-part  biography of Mix is included, but even more interesting (and no-doubt was especially thrilling for any young Straight Shooter of the era) is the detailed diagram of Tom Mix injuries.

 The special note included at the bottom of the diagram had me laughing out loud:
Note:  Scars from 23 knife wounds are not indicated; nor is it possible to show on diagram the hole 4 inches square that was blown in Tom's back by a dynamite explosion.
But perhaps most compelling was the section entitled "Straight Shooters are Home Front Soldiers."  It distinctly spins away from the western fantasy of Tom Mix and reminds us of the realities of being a child on the homefront during World War II.

Straight Shooters have been outstanding in helping to win the war in many ways:
  1. By buying War Stamps regularly. Every ten-cent War Stamp helped to keep some fighting man supplied with food and clothing and medicines and ammunition.
  2. By collecting Waste Paper ... never letting anyone burn old newspapers or wrapping paper. Straight Shooters have collected tons of waste paper for ammunition packing cases and other vital war needs.
  3. By helping mother save tin cans ... by taking off the tops and labels, flattening the cans, and seeing that the boxful of cans was placed on the curb.
  4. By helping mother save waste fats ... reminding-her not to throw away fats and grease no longer useable for cooking, but to save it in a tin container ... and by taking it to the grocery store.
  5. By not talking about the letters their brothers and sisters in the army or navy wrote home. Those letters might have contained information the enemy wanted to know.
  6. By not wasting anything—food, clothing, electricity. By eating everything mother puts on their plates; by taking care of their clothes and by turning off unnecessary lights.
  7. By being careful! Accidents in the home or in the street may mean a trip to the hospital — and hospitals are short of nurses and doctors.
 The manual provided one other pointed, though still upbeat reminder of the year 1944:
Straight Shooter Heroes have fought on every battle front

More than five million boys and girls have joined the Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters since the organization was founded in 1933.  Today, many of those boys and girls are grown-up and have taken their places in Uncle Sam's forces battling for Straight Shooter ideals of freedom and right and honesty all over the world.
While the youthful Tony Mangano did not personalize any of the places in the manual that called for his name or signature, he did faithfully comply with the page 3 instructions to KEEP THIS BOOK IN A SECRETS SPACE!  Tony kept the Manual secure, still within its original mailing envelope for well over six decades.  His family discovered it shortly after his passing in January of 2009.  He was a true Straight Shooter. 


Paul Duca said...

Tom Mix certainly had nothing do with this radio show in 1944...having been killed in a freakish vehicle accident four years before (he swerved off the road and a piece of luggage broke loose, fatally striking him in the head).

Collagemama said...

Thanks for this fun and informative post. I was a "grown-up" when I sat on a barstool in a main street saloon in 1988 Guthrie, Oklahoma. As the only patron in the establishment, I heard a lengthy and fabulously embroidered story from the bartender about a Hollywood agent "discovering" Tom Mix in that very establishment on the barstool just one stool over.